Since 2011, Sharmini Winslow has been a pioneer of psychodrama in Singapore and holds sessions with Promises Healthcare. After pursuing a career in dance and choreography, and founding her own Pilates studio, Sharmini discovered her natural affinity for forming connections with people – notably her close bonds with her Pilates students. Facing anxiety and feeling burnt out by the trials of running a business, she took a degree in counselling and eventually discovered the concept of psychodrama, where she found her own inner breakthroughs.
Here we find out more about this unique form of therapy and how it’s helped people with depression, anxiety and other issues.
Can you explain to us what psychodrama is all about?
Psychodrama is not drama therapy. Psychodrama has its own canon of theories and philosophies – it has a very coherent methodology. Jacob L Moreno was the psychiatrist who founded psychodrama and came up with a theory of personality, philosophy and methodology. It’s a very comprehensive way of working with clients that can also be adapted to work with other theories.
Psychodrama is basically taking whatever is in your psyche (“psycho-”) and putting it into action (“drama”) in the therapy room. We use objects and people to represent things or people from your life that you can interact with on the stage. In psychodrama, you can explore issues you want to deal with and the feelings that are coming up.
Can you give an example of what happens in a psychodrama session?
We begin with warm-ups to help participants connect and feel comfortable with each other and the director. A protagonist is chosen either as a volunteer or by the group. The protagonist is the group member who wishes to explore a situation in their life. A scene is set and group members are chosen as auxiliaries to play the roles of people, things, emotions or anything of significance in the story. The psychodramatist, also known as the director of the drama, facilitates the unfolding of the drama on the stage. The stage is the space set apart specifically for the action to take place. The rest of the group act as the audience who witnesses the drama. These are the main elements in a psychodrama.
In a drama, the protagonist might go to a scene from the past, the present or even a desired future. The protagonist usually experiences a new perspective; something in their psyche shifts and they can engage in the present with more energy and life!
In a psychodrama, we have many ways of facilitating healing and closure so we don’t re-traumatise people – that’s why it takes about 800 hours to become a qualified psychodramatist. There are protocols to follow to create safety and confidentiality, which is an important aspect of group therapy.
What do you think the main advantages of psychodrama are?
The main advantage of psychodrama is that it takes less time to get to the heart of the matter. It helps the client cut through the clutter of their intellectualisation and explore new problem-solving skills. It’s also a holistic form of therapy that embraces spontaneity and body awareness.
Psychodrama is relatively new in Singapore; does this cause any challenges? How do you address this?
There are many misconceptions and one of them is that you have to reveal your personal life to a group of strangers. In actual fact, great care is taken to build trust in the group, and if you’re still not warmed up you can participate as an audience member. I offer open sessions that allow people to experience what goes on in psychodrama. This helps to demystify it and make it more accessible. For those that want to dive deeper, I hold Personal Growth Groups that run for six to eight weeks. I believe that if people are willing to try it, they’ll enjoy it. But there’s always a hesitancy and fear about trying something new.
Is psychodrama more effective for certain kinds of people?
Psychodrama works best for people who are willing to be honest and open and want to deal with their issues in more creative ways.
Can it help with anxiety?
It helps with anger issues, depression, anxiety, stress, relationship issues, low self-esteem and even addictions.
What are some of your success stories?
I had a client who was too afraid to speak because of anxiety and his addiction issues. He was put into our group of men with addiction issues, and he was very quiet in this group. We started doing warm-ups and for the first time in his life people were relating to him as an equal, a peer. Nobody was talking down to him because nobody knew about his background except for me. He had become anxious as a result of years of drug use, and had some neurological issues.
After a few weeks, he started talking in short sentences and told us he had gone to a concert. All the guys in the group were slapping him on the back and cheering him on. His family was really grateful. He didn’t even do his own psychodrama, he was just part of the group.
What advice do you have for people who want to become professional psychodramatists?
Be patient! It takes many hours. If you’re committed to it, stay the course and don’t give up. Supervision is part of the learning process as it’s a very powerful method. Don’t neglect this important aspect of your training.
Want to discover psychodrama for yourself?
Sharmini is hosting an open session/introduction to psychodrama on 12 August for Expat Living readers – visit the Psychodrama website to sign up. She also holds training sessions for those interested in taking up psychodrama professionally. Sharmini is a Certified Psychodramatist, accredited by the American Board of Examiners in Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Psychotherapy
For more information on psychodrama sessions, visit psychodramasingapore.org.